$696,000,000,000. That is the annual defense budget for 2017, a budget allocation that puts most, if not all, federal grants to shame. To put this number in perspective, the annual budget for NASA in 2017 is $19,000,000,000, putting the military’s annual budget roughly 37 times that of NASA’s. At the same time, Public Education, or rather the Department of Education, was allotted $68,000,000,000. And Trump’s budget proposal for 2017 cuts this by nearly 14%, or $9,200,000,000, for a total of $58,800,000,000. All of these examples serve to highlight an undeniable fact: The US has consistently and grossly overfunded the military far more than necessary for decades.
At this point, defense spending is no longer a matter of national security. In fact, the US spends more on defense spending than the next eight highest spending countries combined. The eight, in the order from highest spending to lowest, are as follows: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, United Kingdom, India, and Germany. Out of these eight, we are currently allies with six. And the two countries we aren’t allied with, Russia & China, are both cutting their military budgets. The US, meanwhile, just increased from $596,000,000,000 in 2016 to $696,000,000,000 in 2017. America absolutely and irrefutably, crushes the rest of the world in defense spending. But why?
There is a narrative often used by politicians that goes along the lines of, “America’s military is ‘struggling.” Mitt Romney attacked Barack Obama during the 2012 presidential election, accusing him of letting the military go to ruin, citing extremely low numbers of planes and ships as evidence for his claim. During a debate he boldly claimed that, “Our Navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917. Our Air Force is smaller and older than any time since 1947. We are cutting our number of troops. We are not giving the veterans the care they deserve. We simply cannot continue to cut our Department of Defense budget if we are going to remain the hope of the Earth.”
Four years later, Donald Trump parroted a similar idea during a visit to New Hampshire. Standing in front of thousands, he described the armed forces of America as “a disaster…very weak…being decimated.” He went on to state that, “we [Americans] don’t win with the military, we can’t beat ISIS. We don’t win with anything….An Army base, a Navy base. Everything’s for sale. If it’s a military base, it’s for sale. And we can’t have that. We’re gonna build it big… Nobody respects us, they’re laughing at us. We don’t know what we’re doing.”
The most shocking part of this blatantly wrong narrative is the fact that so many people believe it. A Gallup Poll conducted over the perceived strength of the military, 49% of people believed that the United States was the number one in the world militarily. Meanwhile, another 49% percent believed that the United States was matched by other world superpowers. The remaining 2% believed that America was overshadowed by one foreign power or another.
The inaccuracy of the American public on this topic is downright comical and borderline troubling. America is without a doubt, the strongest military force in the world of all time. America’s military is Rome and Persia’s military lovechild that’s been pumped full of steroids and GMOs. America’s military outshines every other military on the planet. As far as we know, America is the most powerful military force in the known universe.
So, if we don’t have to spend this much on defense, why do we? The answer is money. Or rather, jobs. You see, a majority of the defense budget goes to contract out weapons and military projects to large companies. And these large companies lobby quite a bit to ensure the creation of newer and larger projects. One such company called Lockheed Martin spent $15,000,000 on lobbying just last year alone. And that’s just one company out of hundreds. What these companies do is fairly ingenious, yet ethically questionable. First and foremost, all of these companies are based in the US. They hire specialized, blue-collar professionals for every one of their factories, each factory providing thousands of jobs. Using lobbying, they not only contribute substantial amounts of money to congressmen but promise to bring thousands of jobs across every state. Congress has a way of passing things that are goingto please their constituency and make them richer. These companies literally create the order they want to provide for the military and Congress gives them a thick check in the process.
But this vicious cycle doesn’t stop here. The gross amounts of weapons and technology being ordered is far more than the US military actually uses. Yet, Congress cannot stop ordering more or they would lose thousands of jobs. Therefore, the Department of Defense is forced to dispose of weaponry and technology they aren’t actually using. This dynamic nature of buying and disposing is most accurately shown by the Abrams Tanks fiasco, a fascinating outcome of a deeply flawed system. In 2011, the Army of the United States of America released a statement claiming they no longer wanted Abrams Tanks, and instead wanted to limit the budget for those tanks. Instead, Congress increased the order from the previous year and renewed an order for thousands more. They continued to do so every year until 2014. This is when reporters found thousands of deserted tanks in the middle of Herlong, California, in the Sierra Army Depot. The discovery caused outrage: why was Congress buying tanks that the army didn’t even want? Why waste hundreds of millions of dollars on junk? Well, it turns out the answer is quite simple. You see, Abrams Tanks can only be made by one company on the planet. And this company, General Dynamics, has a plant in Lima, Ohio, that employees thousands of citizens for one purpose: creating Abrams Tanks. Their sole purpose is to create a piece of weaponry that, frankly, no one really wants, but Congress doesn’t want to ruin relations with General Dynamics and put thousands of people out of business, so they decided to buy the tanks anyways and just keep them in an abandoned lot to be refurbished and sold to local law enforcement. That’s right, all the lame equipment that the military doesn’t want but Congress still buys goes directly to third party buyers like police departments across the nation. That is how obscure towns in rural America get their hands on military grade equipment like Abrams Tanks. This advanced technology is then used on the general public. In the latest Abram Tanks’ news, General Dynamics just got an order to upgrade the software on all current Abrams Tanks in circulation in March of 2017. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars were spent just to maintain the economy of one town.
But the story doesn’t quite end there. Given the extensive amount of government backed arms trading occurring in the United States, many weapons can only be bought from the US or a defense company based in the US. The scarcity of these weapons is compounded by a much lower cost of weapons manufacturing in the States, making the US backed companies a viable source of weapons for other countries. These foreign weapons deals bring in billions for the US. Yet, there aren’t any regulations in the sale of the weapons bought by foreign powers. These countries could easily sell to third-parties which are free to sell to other parties as they wish. It is not unfeasible to suggest that America has been arming the very terrorist organizations we have been fighting in the Middle East.
The sheer amount of dependence the United States’ economy has on the military industrial complex should be becoming apparent. Surprisingly, this dependence runs even deeper into the heart of America, exemplified best by the F-35 fighter jet. Perhaps the most horrifying product of the military industrial complex, the prototype, futuristic plane referred to as the F-35 fighter jet was a product contracted to Lockheed in 1992. They projected full-out mass production by 2018. From the start, the F-35 was not planned to be a regular fighter jet in any sense of the word ‘regular.’ The fighter jet was to feature enough hardware and software to replace all fighter jets in every branch of the military. As an all-in-one solution to all of the military’s needs, it was essentially supposed to be a ‘magic’ jet that would solve all of America’s military conflicts overseas. There was a slight problem with this plan, however, and that was that such a fighter jet is nearly impossible to make. And since 1992, Lockheed has repeatedly failed in making a working model without any flaws. Keep in mind, these are jets that are extremely expensive to produce; the individual helmet that comes with the jet costs Lockheed $400,000 alone to manufacture. Meanwhile, projections for full-scale production has been pushed back to 2019. The real kicker is that in order to speed up production and to encourage success, Congress made Lockheed agree to a plan of ‘concurrency.’
Concurrency is a method of product development that functions by beginning production of the product without completing all the testing to ensure safety and other regulatory measures. Should any flaws be discovered, all units are sent back to Lockheed for repairs and upgrades. Unfortunately for taxpayers, Congress agreed to cover all the costs for both production and repairs/upgrades. By 2017, the project has consumed $1,100,000,000,000 of taxpayer money. That is not a typo, the project really did cost the US 1.1 trillion dollars. And as of now, the project still hasn’t finished.
Effectively, the entire project has become a fairy tale created to excuse Congress pouring trillions into defense companies in order to fund hundreds of thousands of jobs across the United States. Now, this isn’t a bad thing. As an American, there is little that makes me happier than a low unemployment rate. The importance of a strong economy and a fed and prosperous population is not lost on anyone. I do not want to see the people of Lima, Ohio, starve. However, the concern the people of America should have is the shocking level of dependence that Americans have on weapons manufacturers. And, over a long period of time, pumping US and international markets with advanced weaponry does no good. Developing a need for weapons to keep the economy afloat is a dangerous move by a race of beings who have repeatedly proven their great capacity of destruction.
The military industrial complex has morphed into a tumor at the heart of America, a tumor so large that any efforts of removing it bring question to the health and well-being of the American people. America just can’t afford letting these military companies fail. The dependence on these companies mimics the dependence the United States had on large banks during the 2008 financial crisis. The States just depended so much on the banks that they couldn’t afford to let them go bankrupt, they had to be bailed out. Likewise, the States cannot afford to let these defense companies fail. They are simply too important and vital to the health of our economy.
And yet, this relationship between Congress and defense companies is growing in America’s economy. Eventually, these defense companies might fail the American people just like large banks did in 2008. Law enforcement using military grade equipment on the American citizens cannot be a good thing. A dependence on factories of death and destruction cannot be good for the people of America. Not only are America’s military defense companies spreading death across the world, but we are establishing ourselves as the premier supplier of advanced weaponry, denoting the name of America as a capitalistic grim reaper of sorts.
Furthermore, it would be downright absurd to pretend that defense spending has only negatives. Examining the long-term positives of the research fueled by defense spending results in a list of innumerable inventions and advancements in various fields. Here are a few of the many positive contributions to society that defense spending has had: modern GPS, non-perishables, modern tampons and pads, and microwavable foods. To quote journalist Alex Schmidt, “…military spending improves the life of anyone who lives in a US state, eats food, or knows a woman.” The benefits of good military spending are immense and vital to progress. However, multi-billion dollar contracts contrived for the sake of defense companies are not examples of good military spending. They drain the US government of resources that could be used to develop new and important technologies.
These are all implications that the average citizen needs to carefully consider when examining the military industrial complex and its role in American society, especially in reference to the budget of defense spending.